The same week I got my new art tablet, I had finally overclocked my computer and received my Oculus Rift in the mail. It’s not too hard to imagine that it was more of a Tech In Pinkerton than an Art In Pinkerton kind of week. For the last two weeks, I have squandered quite some time playing with my new VR gizmo, which means I spent less time on other, more artsy endeavors 😉
Tech Nerd Note: Years ago when I built my computer, I bought a CPU chip (I7-2600K) that was designed to be overclocked, but I never bothered since it was already (and still is) very capable. I finally gave it a go and ended up boosting the speed from 3.4 Ghz to 4.4Ghz (about 25% more power) with minor change in temperature. All I had to do was change two settings in the BIOS and voila…instant faster computer.
I also upgraded my computer desk and arranged my setup so it’s much more aesthetically appealing and has space for using the Oculus Rift.
It’s not all for naught
I found time to play with my new tablet, though. I took its arrival as a cue to transition over to Photoshop from GIMP. I have to say; it has taken a few weeks for me to adjust to how different it is. I feel like I have taken two steps back, but I know I will catch up to speed pretty quickly. I just have to do a little more “google research” to figure out how to do things than I did with GIMP in a long time.
Now that I had my new art tablet, I really wanted to see what it could do, and clicking individual pixels for the Arena Depixelization Project would not scratch that itch (sorry, it’ll be back on the agenda soon). I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but my favorite video game of all time is The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Atmospherically, it’s an amazing setting. However, it’s from early 2000s and a little clunky. The 3d models of the characters are blocky, like those poseable wooden art figures (composed of multiple separate 3D meshes). The textures are low res, blurry, and sometimes quite questionable in their construction. As seen in my Morrowind screenshot directory, I have experimented with that game before.
What is old, is new again
I had a (kind of) new idea. I wanted to see if I could add a Borderlands style look to that game. It is only meant as a proof of concept rather than a full mod, though. As seen in the screenshots for my various projects, the cartoon concept a recurring theme for me (it just takes different forms). It’s an “easy” way to turn an art direction on its head and give it a little more interest. The difference this time from the last time I fiddled with Morrowind’s art assets is that, besides having Borderlands as an inspiration, I’m not brand new to computer graphics this time. I have completed a few textures already, but will save that for another post. – Martin
Over a month ago, the pen for my trusty Wacom Bamboo tablet (see first post ever) broke. This was quite disheartening as I love having an art tablet and it was hard to be motivated without it.
After much research and reflection, I have finally picked up a new tablet: the Hurion 650 Pro. The great thing about it (besides the very positive ratings) is that it functions at the level of the middle tier Wacom products but only cost $79 US dollars on Amazon. I can’t wait to take advantage of the added features it brings.
Breaking it in
After it got installed, I fiddle with my new toy using GIMP (side note: really tiring of using GIMP and its limitations). I was working on a homework project and had a picture of a pencil loaded. Just for fun, I attempted a very hasty and crude pencil outline of the pencil. It’s rough but I’m sentimental and it’s the first official drawing on the Hurion. I merely looked to trace the major lines and add some crosshatching…I wasn’t very attentive to keeping straight lines because this was more to test out the tablet than make art. However, I like it anyway.
Super busy in RL (real life) but I’m slugging away when I can. I have 73 doors completed so far (about 2/3 of the total). It is quite a pain coming up with so many unique doors based on the few variations Bethesda used over and over. However, I want to do it right to add variety so I only do a few then wait a day or two for more inspiration.
EDIT: Two every couple of days…HA! I posted this late at night. When I woke up the next morning, I busted out 5 more than that night I did another 10. (To be fair; I haven’t done the cut and pasting of the wall SET textures backgrounds to match the new doors, so I’m really only doing the doors right now).
EDIT2: I don’t look forward to this one….
Windows to the soul
Recently while playing around with “vanilla” (unaltered) Arena, I noticed that the windows turn on an off for day and night. I believe this is based on the window color being pure white. In quite a few of the SET files, I had made the windows yellow breaking the on/off effect. It’s an easy fix though.
Caveat: I’m a hopeless tech nerd.
I like trying out software and technology. Things like text-to-speech, software debugging, emulators, etc. are like candy to me. Why is this on an art blog….err i mean…collegiate journal? Because sometimes I mess stuff up. This time I was trying to get a Windows XP/7 program that doesn’t like Windows 10 to install on my computer. In doing so, I borked my login so that it wouldn’t accept my password. From that point started a chain of events (all my own doing) to fix it that made the situation worse and worse. Finally, I couldn’t even boot my machine. Seriously, I’m pretty good with tech but on this day I rolled a “1”.
Long story short, I recently had to wipe my boot drive (no important files were on there but the OS) and install a clean Windows 10. I tried to cold turkey eliminate using GIMP since I already have Photoshop. That didn’t work too well. Photoshop is different enough that some very common things I was used to doing all the time in GIMP didn’t work. I’ll probably start watching some intro videos to see how Photoshop works before I try that again.
All in all, not my proudest tech week (or two).
I did some research into the MAP files for Arena. However, I want to compile it in a cohesive manner so that post will wait till I feel it is ready enough. My hope is that the information that I have uncovered might help others if they decide to “crack” the format.
A little slow this week but I have 35 of the IMG files done. Even though several are repeats of the same image but a different name (one door is the same for 7 images), I am striving to make them different. Although they ARE listed in the INF file that are used as the key for the map files (MIFs), I think those files are based on templates that contain extraneous data and that many of these doors aren’t actually used in the game. I guess I’ll find out when I am doing my test play through after going Beta. – Martin
Get it together man
Now that I have finished the “walls and halls”, it’s time to renovate the doors and remaining floors. I have finished almost all the ground textures though (well a few could used tweaked too). In the past, I just worked directly in the directory where I extracted the files and reinserted them into the BSA from there. However since there are so many IMG files (949 to be exact) and that isn’t the cleanest way to work from a project management perspective, I pulled all the door files out to a separate folder/workspace and created a completed folder to use for importing files back to the BSA.
Doors, Doors, Everywhere there are Doors
There are 112 door files not including non-doors that would serve as potential transition points (e.g. ladder up/down, stairs, etc..there are about 12 of those). These IMG files come in two variety, framed and whole texture.
I’ve been framed
The framed doors are “framed” with the texture of the building to which they belong (e.g. the Mage Guild door has a frame art that matches the building). To do these, I’ll just copy and paste a wall from the matching set file and layer it under the door so it’ll be a perfect fit with the rest of the building. All exteriors and some interior doors are framed doors, pretty much any door that transitions between outside and inside.
That’s no small wall…it’s a door!
The other type of door is the whole texture door. I have done a few of these previously as you can see in the screenshot. These doors belong to all the interior rooms and are the ones that swing open so you can enter a room. Although they are relatively simple (as they repeat the same textures over and over for different files), I’m hoping to add a little more variety to them.
First things first though, I will test to see if each IMG file is used in game (i’ll probably do them in batches). I have already found several that aren’t. I will likely still redo them just in case. Worst case scenario, if I ever can get anyone to figure out how to decipher the MTF files, I will use them to make new dungeons and buildings.
Awhile back I had posted that I had learned that I could update the font files. I never liked the font in Arena as it was too flowery for readability at such a low resolution. Each letter in the fonts was ranged from 3×3 to 8×8 pixels in size. They were all really just super small pictures.
If I build it, I’ll build it thrice
I wasn’t satisfied with my previous attempts and decided to quickly rebuild them again. This time, I tested each one out in game to see how well the effect worked. Surprisingly, this took more time than I imagined and I ended up completely revamping each font file 3-4 times till I was happy with them. In game testing allowed me to see where I missed or added a space, what characters didn’t look right, and generally if the font looked ok when playing. As you can see in the picture, the editor lets you click each pixel, one by one. While each character font file can have the spacing and padding adjusted using the slider (thus bigger or small amount of horizontal pixels), the height of the characters was fixed for each font file. Although it would be relatively easy to just rename one of the other font files that have a bigger height setting, I think that might play havok on how the game displays text and didn’t really see the need for it.
Through some in for spares?
To determine which font affected which portion of the game, I filled in a different set of characters in each font file as a solid box. Then I just looked to see which font was being used in each portion of the game containing text. Like with the art (and probably sound files), I found that not all fonts were used. Of the 10 font files included with the game, I have only been able to find 4 of them in game. Or at best, the others are used in some obscure corner of the game.
NOTE: The screenshots were taken with a vanilla version of Arena since this mod will be released as a separate mod from ADP.
UPDATE: I released TES Arena ReFonted on the nexus. You can get it here.
I have just finished the last SET file for TES1:ARENA. The SET files include the artwork for most walls and some floors in the game. With the completion of the the last one, ADP (Arena Depixelization Project) has reached Alpha status.
Doors and more
Of course that doesn’t mean I’m done, I still have to finish the remaining walls and floors that are IMG files (the other image type that Arena uses for in-game static graphics. The doors are much simpler (and less abstract) than the SET files. Additionally, IMG files are a single image as opposed to the 3 to 5 images stitched together that composed a SET file.
Furthermore, many of the exterior doors borrow from their “matching” SET file for wall surrounding the door. This should be a simple matter of loading the SET file, coping a picture and pasting as a background layer for the door. I have completed many IMG files, but there are still many more.
Upload to a site near you
Now that I’m in Alpha, I plan to upload the initial mod, hopefully, within the week. Naturally, I will clearly state the unfinished condition. I just believe this would be a good chance to get some critical feedback. I already know that I am no longer happy with some of the textures but am resolved to get to Beta before I start tweaking my work too much.
We have a tech upgrade?
A while back I started subscribing to Adobe’s Photoshop plan but haven’t used it yet. For the most part, the projects I was working on had time constraints that discouraged me from experimenting in a new program. Photoshop user interface and ways of functioning are different than GIMP (although both can produce similar results). Now that I don’t have any pet projects outside of my own interests, I figure this is a good time to start. This is especially true with converted IMG files which are very simple (kind of like “hello world” for programming.)
After much wait and anticipation (more like I completely forgot to release it), TES Arena IntroFix is complete and can be downloaded here:
In this mod, I fixed three slides from the intro when you select new game.
I had completed these some time ago but forgot to release them. Unfortunately, my file managment has been less than stellar and it took awhile to find them again. When I did, I noticed that there were still a couple of errors that needed fixing. So I fixed them and now no one need ever suffer under Uriel Septim IV’s oppressive need to steal the limelight from his great grandson.
Uriel is an odd family name
Once I had the textures in PNG format (a common image format), fixing the slides was a matter of several well placed cut and pasting.
However, getting them to a PNG format was more of a challenge. I had to use Arena Toolbox by Dysperia. That tool is a fantastic counterpart to ArenaModdingSuite. One of it’s unique functions is that it can convert the compressed images into PNG. Before this tool, no one knew how to uncompress those images (there are quite a few).
One hidden feature of the program is that it allows you to import the palette file (where it determines color) into the image itself versus being external to the file in the root directory. To make it work though, you have to trick the program into thinking it’s a new image. Simply adding a letter in the filename sufficed. The Toolbox can also convert back to the native IMG file.
Last thing left was to test it. I dropped my 3 new IMG Intro slides into the root folder of Arena, booted it up, and IT WORKED. Awesome. Sometimes it’s the little wins that keep you going 😉
I know, I know. I have been away for some time. 2015 was a very difficult year in the non-digital realm and some things had to slide to offset the stress.
Came back again
However, despite my my absence on this blog, I was actually quite busy on the graphic arts side of the house. I either oversaw or personally completed several projects for coworkers and friends. One of which, I am extremely proud of (more on that hopefully in a future post…i.e. one that isn’t written late at night when I should be sleeping).
It’s all fun and games
While I didn’t really work on the Arena Depixelization Project too much (it had to slide too), I was involved with design aspects for a couple of mods focusing mostly on 3D layout & set design and got some interesting practice on cooperative project management as a graphic artist/designer. I even every so slightly fiddled with 3D modeling.
Accelerate to 88 mphs
I have Photoshop now, guess I should actually work on learning how to use it.The problem is that I’m so used to GIMP, Photoshop seems downright alien to me. I imagine my warm up period will probably not be the speediest.
I want to experiment a little with my art projects. I am thinking of “remastering” some of my very very early and juvenile (i.e. decades old) artwork. I don’t know how it will turn out but at minimum, it seems like a interesting experiment.
Another similar idea I read about was to take kids artwork and reimagine it. I have a lot of that lying around from over the years and that just seems like a fun concept.
I guess we’ll see what the year brings but overall I feel healthier happier and more like my old self. I miss my old blog…and I seem to hear a certain collection of 64 x 64 pixel sprites calling my name ;